Since no objective rules exist for determining the next big thing, prophesy-style articles are simply the opinion of their authors, and contradictory views abound. The market for commodities is a good example with both bullish and bearish price forecasts in evidence for 2020, all supported by convincing arguments. By contrast, the articles I’ve seen so far on industrial technology trends for the year ahead stand out due to the ubiquity of view shared by all commentators – digitalisation is on the rise.
Since digital transformation is an evolutionary concept, it might be useful to pause for a moment and review the current status quo. Over the last few years, digital transformation has shifted its primary focus from digitisation to digitalisation.
Digitisation involves creating digital versions of previously analog data, such as replacing paper-based work orders with digital versions and replacing legacy analog control and field instrumentation systems with digital counterparts. Digitalisation, on the other hand, involves using digital data and technologies to make work processes more efficient: for example, utilising data from a digital work order to improve maintenance scheduling and execution, or using digital twins to improve engineering processes.
By definition then, digitalisation is a <multi-faceted methodology and some aspects can be expected to gain traction faster than others. These are the ones that are forecast to go mainstream in the very near future. Digital twins and open automation technology are two to watch.
According to ABB, digital twins for measurement devices will become more common in 2020 and the focus will be on optimised engineering, production and maintenance processes. The perceived benefits will accrue from increased ‘right first time’ outcomes through improved process performance modelling, as well as a comparison between ideal and actual performance. Through AI (machine learning) algorithms, anomaly detection will allow abnormal operating parameters to be detected early, before costly defects in product quality or equipment failure bring the line to a halt.
See ‘Two ABB experts predict measurement trends for 2020’ for more.
On the matter of open systems, the Open Process Automation Forum is in the process of developing technology standards that support interoperability, avoid technology obsolescence and deliver added business value. The basic idea is to reduce the cost and effort required to integrate monitoring and optimisation applications, without losing the real-time determinism provided by modern process control and platforms. Proof-of-concept systems recently showed the viability of these ideas and forecasters expect to see workable products entering the market in the foreseeable future. Since this initiative is driven through an end-user consortium that includes the calibre of ExxonMobil, Aramco, BASF, ConocoPhillips, Dow, Georgia-Pacific, and Linde, it will be interesting to see how the big automation vendors adapt. The ARC Advisory Group is close to the progress being made through this ground-breaking initiative and interested readers can find more detail in ‘’Technology trends to follow for 2020’.
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